In response to:

Graves and Goddesses from the August 18, 1983 issue

To the Editors:

When a book of such virulently defamatory intent as Martin Seymour-Smith’s Robert Graves: His Life and Work [reviewed in NYR, August 18] is with regard to myself (this intent of stronger hold on its author than the ostensible biographical intent) actually passes the tests of commercial legitimacy with the publishers of two countries, and those of literary legitimacy with the literary press of each (editorial and reviewing representatives), the case of possible decencies of justice, literary and personal, seems hopeless. With, at the age of 82, much of my life’s work still pressing for completion, I have found the assaults of the book itself, and those of the reviews, which without exception have made the book’s slanderings of me their own, so indicative of a pervasive demoralization of literary-world standards as almost to make me yield to the urgings of some of my friends not to waste my forces on what carries evidence of its own discreditability. While not accepting this view, Seymour-Smith’s crass enlargements on Graves’s falsifications of everything pertaining to myself within his thievish conniving grasp, and on all refuse of spoken or written matter scurrilously introducible into his biography’s inner biography of me, taken everywhere into grateful custody by the powers of literary fellowship in both countries, I could not but acknowledge that it would be a waste of time for me to expect public complaints of mine of the Seymour-Smith book (and the O’Prey trailer to it—in England—of specious scholarly presentability) to affect this sordidly successful vilification of me. Nevertheless, I have offered some commentary, here and there, on especially shameful exhibits of reviewer relishing of Martin Seymour-Smith’s shameful book (and the O’Prey trailer, as there has been call). Why? Because it all—the inherently boorish heroics of falsity and falsifications of Graves, the insatiable lusting of Seymour-Smith for stuff of literary brand with which to fill his emptiness, and the humanly hollow virility of the practice of the arts of worldly literariness in this time—reeks of death, the death of literature-loyal human motivation, and humanly loyal literary motivation: where I have addressed complaints, I have just been moved to make the sign of life, against all this smother of noisome lifelessness.

The “Why?” of Martin Seymour-Smith’s maniacal animus towards me was not for loyal revenge-taking in Graves’s behalf for my late-in-time public references to discoveries I made of appropriations and untruths prepetrated against me by Graves. In the mid-Sixties Seymour-Smith, then unknown to me, endeavored by correspondence to interest me in favoring his making my work his special subject, he came to be uneasy in his attachment to Graves; I found I could not commit myself to such a project—and he renewed that attachment with feelings that smouldered into the vindictive resentment towards myself that is the main driving force of his book. And what of the “Why?” of Ian Hamilton’s outstandingly obscene reviewer staging of Seymour-Smith’s amateurishly vehement defamatory fabrications? Hamilton goes back not quite so far—about thirteen years—in the history of animusridden treatment of me as Seymour-Smith does: as reviewer of my Selected Poems (Faber, 1970), in the Observer, and subsequently as editor of The Review presiding over an issue of it featuring two prejudiced articles on my work and myself (by Roy Fuller and Seymour-Smith—the former later wanting to make amends). Space limitation obliges me to restrict my glosses on Hamilton’s professionally crafty recasting of Seymour-Smith’s nervously executed script of biographical report of me to two items. Against the supposed clubroom pornographic reference made to me by Allen Tate cited by Seymour-Smith with pornographically feigned reluctance and so stylishly presented by Hamilton, I set this note of facts. Tate and I met in 1924, he then pronouncing me the woman to save American poetry from the Edna St. Vincent Millays. There followed a correspondence, during which he wrote with fervor as one most seriously committed to me personally; but a preceding commitment to Caroline Gordon took over. In the latter half of 1925 it chanced that I lived not far from the Tates in Greenwich Village (he having married Caroline Gordon). We were friendly neighbors; I carried the baby when he brought Caroline home from the hospital, by the “elevated.” I left at year’s end for abroad. There was no further contact between us. But in the Forties he wrote of me to literary information centres abroad as “one of the best living poets.” I went abroad at the invitation of Robert Graves and his wife to join them for a projected trip to Egypt, and collaboration on a book of criticism.

I am, respectfully,

Laura (Riding) Jackson

Wabasso, Florida

This Issue

December 22, 1983